St. Croix Feature

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Marching on Frederiksted

On July 3, 1848, more than 8,000 slaves demanding their freedom marched half a mile from LaGrange to Frederiksted. Their actions forever changed the course of history. Gov. General Peter von Scholten stood up in his carriage in front of Fort Frederick to declare: "You are now free. You are hereby emancipated. Go home peacefully."

Von Scholten was relieved of his position and charged with dereliction of duty by the Danish government. He departed from St. Croix on July 14, leaving behind his lover, a free black woman named Anna Heegaard. He never returned, and died in Denmark in 1852.

The revolt had its roots in the 1834 emancipation of slaves in Great Britain's Caribbean colonies, including what are now called the British Virgin Islands. The Danish government, sensing what was coming, began to improve the working conditions for its slaves. These efforts, however, failed to satisfy the slaves who wanted full freedom.

On July 28, 1847, Danish King Christian VIII ruled that slavery would continue a dozen more years, but those born during those 12 years would be free. This further angered the island's slaves. On July 2, 1848, a conch shell sounded, signifying that the slaves should start gathering. The die was cast, and the rest, as they say, is history.

After emancipation, the former slaves were forced to sign yearly contracts with plantation owners. Those contracts could only be renegotiated on October 1, still called Contract Day. This angered the plantation workers and gave rise to other uprisings throughout the late 1800s.

Updated: 12-2013

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